Thursday, April 28, 2011

Review: Broadway's 'Memphis' Comes to Movie Screens

Chad Kimball and Montego Glover
(photos credit: Joan Marcus/
The film presentation of the musical 'Memphis' is an unusual experiment. If not only to document the production with the original cast, it serves as a marketing test to prolong a Broadway run that despite winning the Tony Award for best musical is considered only a medium hit and at nearly 700 performances at the Shubert Theatre has yet to fully recoup the investment to open the show in New York.

The show stars Chad Kimball as Huey Calhoun (loosely based on pioneering DJ Dewey Phillips) who wants to bring rhythm and blues music to the masses of white America. Kimball's performance despite being Tony nominated borders on this side of distraction. The mannerisms of a constant lean in his stature and elongating syllables is a lot to get used to. But it is a feat that Kimball maintains an energy in a role that keeps the actor on stage for almost the entire running time of the musical. 

The true star of 'Memphis' must be Montego Glover as Felicia Farrell who becomes the inspiration and then love interest of Calhoun. She is the heart of the story in a character that grows from unknown to music and radio star. With an engaging stage presence that carries into film, Glover offers effortless vocals from the chirpy "Someday" to the personal anthem "Love Will Stand When All Else Fails."

Less persuasive is the attraction between Felicia and Hughie even though the relationship is tested through fame and fortune, public acceptance and Hughie's proud nature. Peppered among the two is a vibrant and colorful supporting cast though Hughie's mama (Cass Morgan) leans towards caricature. One uncomfortable fit is the interpolation of vintage video projection of the civil rights movement within the confines of this lightweight musical.

One cute highlight is facsimiles of music legends Fats Domino, Perry Como and others popping up on stage to document the changes in taste of popular music; and another where a game of jump rope mimics the breaking down of racial barriers. Slights of humor and lots of energetic choreography helps to keep the show moving at a steady pace.

The music by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan, with lyrics by the show's book writer Joe DiPietro, covers various styles from the rock and roll of the era to gospel and blues. The finale ensemble number "Steal Your Rock 'N' Roll" reveals Bryan's commercial music background with an instantly accessible tune. It's the kind of happy number that will lift spirits and bring the house to its feet.

Filmed in January 2011 in front of a live audience, the musical is captured like a feature film in close-ups and long shots. For this viewer the production appeared more engaging and Kimball's portrayal more palpable. Winning the most coveted Tony award comes with high expectations which ultimately left me underwhelmed when I first saw the production live at the Shubert Theatre in July of last year. 

Ultimately the benefit of this filmed presentation is those taking the opportunity to experience it. It offers the rare chance to see a production that they may never see live. Producers likely hope this serves as a preview for movie audiences to spread the word and build an audience for the the show's upcoming North American tour. As of this writing there is no announcement if and when this presentation will be released on DVD or Blu-ray.

Click here for more info about the next screenings of 'Memphis' at movie theaters. More production photos below.

THE DETAILS (Broadway Production)
  • Website:
  • Where:  Shubert Theatre, New York City
  • When:  Tue 7pm, Wed-Sat 8pm, Wed & Sat 2pm, Sun 3pm
  • Running Time:  2 hrs 30 min (15 min intermission)
  • Ticket Prices:  $41.50-$131.50
  • Opening:  Oct 19, 2009 (previews from Sep 23, 2009)
  • Closing:  Open Run
  • Book online:
  • Book by phone:  1-800-432-7250
  • Cast Recording: Memphis Original Broadway Cast


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